Issaquah’s “Lady Mayors”

By Julie Hunter, Collections Manager

Separated by decades and with very different experiences in the office, the three women who have held Issaquah’s highest elective post share several common experiences on their way to the top of local politics. All raised children before becoming mayor in their fifties. None were born or raised in Issaquah. All had experience both on the town/city council and in some other position. And all had workplace experience outside of the home.

The term “Lady Mayor” was actually applied to Issaquah’s first woman in the job, Stella Alexander. The expression had dark shadings when it was used by men who refused to follow her lead. Some were simply being sexist; others really disagreed with decisions that she made.

Alexander became the first woman mayor of Issaquah in 1932, at age fifty-one, when Washington women had had the vote for twenty-two years. Nationally, women’s suffrage had only been part of the Constitution for a dozen years. Stella brought toughness and resolve to local politics. She and her second husband, Jack, had moved to Issaquah in the 1920s.  He was a blacksmith; she was known throughout town as his highly effective business manager and bill collector. In 1927, she was elected to be the first woman member of the town council. In 1928,  she was a member of the “31st senatorial district committee of the women’s district of the King County Republican central committee. . .,” (Issaquah Press, October 11, 1928). When she ran for mayor on the Taxpayers’ Ticket, she promised fiscal conservatism. She spent less than two years in office.  Her term ended early when the populace voted to recall her after controversies that included fire department coverage and public spending on sidewalks. After her stint as mayor, she ran once more for office, this time as a Republican seeking to be Washington Secretary of State. She lost.

It was sixty-four years before another woman was elected to the office. Ava Frisinger and her husband had come to Issaquah from Michigan in the 1960s. Over the next twenty-five years, she served on many local, regional, and national planning advisory boards.  She became a member of the city’s Planning Commission in the 1980s and then served on the City Council for ten years and was its president for four terms. In 1994, after her first (and only unsuccessful) run for mayor, she founded Green Heron Consulting to work with grass roots aspects of land use planning.  In 1998, at 53, she won her mayoral bid, and served until 2013.  At her retirement party, her husband, Bill, reminisced about their love of skiing and how their skiing trips out of town had always been cut short during her tenure because she didn’t dare to miss a City Council meeting, never knowing what they might do in her absence.  The city grew with amazing speed during her term, despite the pause caused by the national economic downturn of 2009, but Frisinger is able to look with pride at successes in retaining green space.

Issaquah’s current mayor, Mary Lou Pauly, was elected only four years after Frisinger’s term ended. She came to Issaquah with her husband and young children in 1993.  In 1994 she joined the Development Commission. Nine years later, she was elected to the City Council.  Her education as a civil engineer and her work experience in public works engineering served her well in these capacities. In 2017, at 56, she became Issaquah’s current mayor. When her term began, the city’s renewed rapid growth and increasing density looked to be the major themes. Now we wait to see how the Pandemic affects the life and growth of the city and the mayor’s work.